Last night I was at a Sleater-Kinney show and consumed myself in the music enough that I didn't glance at my phone for two and half hours, a remarkably long internet-free stretch by the standards of our age.
While I was reveling in my brief moment of Luddism, Caitlin McNeill did the opposite: She reached out to the internet for help. The Scottish 21-year-old had played a wedding in Scotland the previous weekend and was intrigued by the color of the dress worn by the bride's mother. She thought it was black and blue, but others made compelling arguments otherwise, saying it was white and gold.
"All of our friends disagreed," McNeill told Business Insider.
Seeking to settle the argument, she crowdsourced the question to Tumblr, and you already know the rest of it—it spread in the ineffable way things spread on the internet, through Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and a Buzzfeed quiz that now has over 27 million views and Pinterest and probably Snapchat and all those other doodads. By midnight, smelling the traffic the way a dog smells raw meat in a trash can, pretty much every website in the world was blogging about it. VICE's own piece involved an interview with a color expert who had no idea what was going on. A bunch of celebrities tweeted about it, and like everyone else they disagreed on what color the dress was; entire articles went up last night that were literally just lists of famous people saying things about the dress, and they probably did extremely well for the sites that posted them. It was an orgy of traffic that everyone could get in on without trying very hard—and about as appetizing to watch as a lazy, everyone-gets-in orgy would be.
"It definitely has all the qualities of a viral hit," viral guru Neetzan Zimmerman told Motherboard when asked about the dress. "It's dumb, divisive, visual and eminently shareable."
You can probably imagine how confused I was when I finally fired up a laptop around midnight. At first I thought there was some sort of glitch. The same picture of the same dress comprised the entirety of my Facebook newsfeed. It was a veritable hell I could not scroll my way out of—everyone wanted to let everyone else know that the dress was gold and white, the dress was blue and black, or that colors are subjective phenomenons that depend on the lighting, our eyes, and the parts of our brains that interpret visual stimuli.
The dress is blue and black. You can see that pretty plainly on the website of its maker, Roman Originals, which has renamed the garment #TheDress. (The company also announced that it'll make another version in white and gold, in case you want to buy two kinds of what one writer called a "fugly shitrag.") WIRED had a more complicated way to determine the color of the dress that shows how hard it is to answer a simple question like, "Is that a blue dress?" but the magazine's Photoshop analysis was, in the end, pretty conclusive:
Even WIRED's own photo team—driven briefly into existential spasms of despair by how many of them saw a white-and-gold dress—eventually came around to the contextual, color-constancy explanation. "I initially thought it was white and gold," says Neil Harris, our senior photo editor. "When I attempted to white-balance the image based on that idea, though, it didn't make any sense." He saw blue in the highlights, telling him that the white he was seeing was blue, and the gold was black. And when Harris reversed the process, balancing to the darkest pixel in the image, the dress popped blue and black. "It became clear that the appropriate point in the image to balance from is the black point," Harris says.
Returning from the show after the entire thing had essentially played itself out made me feel like an alien on my own planet. Somehow, I had missed an entire cycle of memefication, "debate," reposting, recrimination, and regret—which was, actually, a pretty nice place to be. Then I went to bed.
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